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Dispatches by Michael Herr


Michael Herr worked as a correspondent at the Vietnam War for more than a year. Being in the war zone, Herr interacted with combat soldiers, nurses, Vietnamese locals, and the other correspondents, and it allowed him to get an in-depth insight into the war. The stay and interaction in Vietnam provided Herr with information regarding the American community. His book Dispatches is a compilation of the experiences Herr underwent while on duty. The memoir provides different first-hand accounts of his war experiences in Vietnam. When compared with the other literary works on the accounts of war, Dispatches has a different approach, which seeks to cover the shortcomings experienced in the prior works. According to Michael Herr, there were limitations and challenges in the accounts of war.

Herr writes, “Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened” (Herr 6) – in such a way, Herr argues that the traditional accounts of the war lacked key and detailed information of the actual happenings in the war zone. Therefore, Dispatches seeks to eliminate the shortcomings by providing oral history of the Vietnam War. The memoir is mainly composed of true stories told by combat soldiers and Herr’s personal experiences.

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Accounts of Wars


Wars are disastrous occurrences in the world. For every war, there have been different accounts provided of what actually happened. In some cases, people rely on the information provided by real-life experiences of soldiers and the other people in the war zones. Besides, people depend on the information provided by the media, while others believe what is told by the government. One of the monumental wars of the century is the Vietnam War, which is a historical moment that still haunts and defines the American society. The Vietnam War majorly affected the generations that lived in 1960s ‑ early 1970s. In this regard, the material regarding it differs ranging from creative writing to simple accounts. One notable text related to the Vietnam War is Michael Herr’s Dispatches, which is a masterful collage of tales, dialogues, and prose poetry on the Vietnam War. Michael Herr is a writer who spent eighteen months struggling the marines and combat soldiers on their tasks in the hills, campsites, rainforests, and urban places of Vietnam. In essence, the book presents Michael Herr’s personal experiences in the Vietnam War. The narration of the experiences is filled with hurt, wittiness, and benevolence, which guides readers through duty calls of combat soldiers in Vietnam. The author interacts with different personalities in Vietnam including the combat soldiers, nurses, correspondents, and the Vietnamese locals. Through the stories of these populations, Dispatches reveals to readers a territory of actual history ratified by the young men who sacrificed their lives, hearts, and rationality on the line of duty. The paper seeks to address Michael Herr’s explanation of the challenges and limitations of the traditional accounts of war. In response to the shortcomings highlighted by Michael Herr, he wrote Dispatches as a new journalism response.

Challenges and Limitations of Traditional Accounts of War

Accessing information on the accounts of war posed major challenges to the American community. Depending on the sources of information, Michael Herr explains the challenges and limitations faced relating to the accounts of war. According to Herr, one major source of the accounts of war is the soldiers. People would rely on the stories told by the American soldiers regarding the war. Authors, journalists, and writers would all rush to any soldier returning home for the true accounts and details. Combats were mainly popular sources of information in the traditional setting. Any small detail given by the soldiers accounted for a story. The information would range from the life of the natives, the attacks, life and leadership in different camps, medical experiences, and any other pertinent detail. The main challenge of these accounts is death and incapacitation of combats from the wars. Herr explains that the wars were tragic with many combats losing their lives in the course of duty. Few managed to come back home and provide information on the undertakings. Even most soldiers in the camps could not explain the occurrences of different war events. In his work Dispatches, Herr cites the narration of one combat, “Patrol went up the mountain. One man came back. He died before he could tell us what happened” (Herr 6). Such situations only leave combats and the other people with the desire to know more about what might have happened in the mountains. Such accounts of war will go unreported or unaccounted as there is no living person to provide the needed information. In the end, the only reports will be of those American soldiers who died in a particular attack. The deaths of combat soldiers “killed” the information required to explain the wars.

According to Michael Herr, different accounts of war highly relied on reasons understood by the narrator. Different narrators considered diverse reasons for the war. From a general perspective, the Vietnam War was more complex since it involved such aspects as communism and nationalism, colonialism and liberation, and reform and revolution. These modifications substantiate instrumental information to the manner in which persons re-count their battle familiarities and demand for divergent types of exploration. Obtaining information on the war from the people who considered it as a way to reforms would be different from the accounts of those considering the war as a form of nationalism, hence limitations to obtaining information. In addition, the people searching for information will face key challenges in differentiating these kinds of information. At the end, the accounts obtained will require in-depth analysis in order to report accurate and proper information. The traditional accounts of wars did not provide sufficient platform for this analysis, hence presentation of biased data and information. In addition, Americans’ familiarities in Vietnam differed subject to their point in the war. For instance, Herr indicates that the stories told by enlisted combats differed at great lengths from the non-military participants, such as journalists and Red Cross workers. Another limiting factor is the region of people providing the stories.

Traditional methods of communicating the accounts of war were also challenging. Herr lists different methods applicable at the time, which mostly included oral history and fictional presentation of information. Mostly, writers and journalists applied the oral history concept, which entailed presenting a compilation of people’s stories. The works of fiction were instrumental in the narrations. However, the arising challenge of the approach is the lack of justification of the information. The traditional forms of communication eliminated platforms for people to analyse and clarify the information presented through omitting individual names and blending fragments of unalike tales. The other forms of communication include war films and movies. Although the directors sought to provide visual explanation of the war experiences, critics cite limitations to the information presented. In some of the films, the information used was narrow, and no one can really explain the actual war events in different war zones.

Gender imbalance is a key challenge to the traditional accounts of wars. Herr explains that the main backbone of the accounts was on the male participants, and the contribution of female population in the wars was completely ignored. The accounts of war are greatly dependent on gender. According to Herr, in traditional accounts, male voices tend to be more common with women’s experiences only acting as supporting evidence. Combat soldiers had a rough time trying to give their accounts of the war, which was not easy for their women counterparts (Marshall 93). This limited the information provided on wars. In this regard, the narratives of wars mostly eliminated women’s participation there. The traditional accounts of war indicated women stayed at home, yet it is clear that women had an active role in wars, particularly the Vietnam War. Despite the emerging facts, the major part of the accounts of war, both creative writing and non-fiction, rests fixated on men’s familiarity replicating the expressively superior number of men during the war. Another issue raised by Michael Herr is the communication gap between civilians and veterans.

How does the New Journalism of Dispatches Respond to these Shortcomings?

Dispatches both provides an account of Herr’s experiences as a war correspondent and reiterates stories of war from the people around him. In the course of his duties, Michael Herr engaged in activities that allowed him to talk to Vietnamese civilians, other correspondents, soldiers, and nurses. Through the application of key literary devices, Dispatches provides accounts of both people in Vietnam and those outside the war zone. The memoir is considered authentic with the author focusing on the narrations and the Vietnam War. In eliminating the shortcomings in the other accounts of wars, Dispatches is a disjointed memoir ranging back and forth in time with a major focus on two major events. Herr spent almost eighteen months in the war zone; hence, the accounts of war in Dispatches are non-fiction. Much of Dispatches is written in a stream of consciousness style with run-on sentences, variable punctuation, and much information from philosophy and 1960s pop culture (Herr 69). Dispatches takes a different approach, which is not a history of war. The shortcomings arising from literatures taking the approach of history of war usually give unsubstantiated accounts. On the other hand, Dispatches provides background information, which allows readers understand the flow of events and off-stage characters.

Michael Herr’s Dispatches is the creation of a decade-long work that would personify his familiarity with Vietnam as a war columnist. Reviews of the memoir indicate the work of new journalism because of the aspects the author employs. Relating to postmodern Vietnam War literature, Dispatches is diverse and canonical with key self-contextualization and myth reconstruction. Dispatches seeks to achieve the correction of the imbalance portrayed in other veteran-authored texts (Marshall 110). Moreover, Herr explores languages used by different groups of people in the war zones. For instance, Herr explains that the endorsed linguistic of the American administration offered dissimilar appearance of Vietnam than the soldiers’ slang. “Vietnam has spawned a jargon of such delicate locutions that it’s often impossible to know even remotely the thing being described” (Herr 91). Herr’s remark specifies the way the administration discussed the information fissure amid the army and non-army with softened linguistic. In this regard, Herr resists the government’s inclination to moderate its dialectal on behalf of non-combatant addressees offering a temporally and physically particular proclamation.

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Unlike the other texts related to war, Herr’s Dispatches roughly but fairly summarizes the wavering inspirations on personal philosophies of war. “Somewhere all the mythic tracks intersected, from the lowest John Wayne wet dream to the most aggravated soldier-poet fantasy, and where they did I believe that everyone knew everything about everyone else, every one of us there a true volunteer” (Herr 20). Most importantly, in Dispatches, Herr outlines various personal experiences while on duty in Vietnam and combines the text with the major recounts of the army stories. In addition, his profession presents a platform for an on-site spoken historian, and his manuscript is a broadsheet account, an individual description, and a compilation of combats’ knowledge. Herr’s approach includes directly quoting combat soldiers providing their words as certification and re-counting of their war stories and experiences.


As Michael Herr’s language specifies, the accounts of the Vietnam War comprise vigilant chronicle structure and cope the queries adjoining non-fiction in a multiplicity of ways. Through different approaches, the author manages to address the shortcomings presented by the traditional accounts of war. From the above discussion, it is evident that there were major challenges and limitations to the traditional accounts of wars. Even though Dispatches is a chronicle, it has definite essentials of oral account and offers an opening point from which to survey dissimilarities between new journalism and traditional approaches.